Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 20 May 2019

Philippine militants release Norwegian captive after a year

Kjartan Sekkingstad was abducted by Abu Sayyaf along with two Canadians, who were beheaded this year, and a Filipina freed in June.

MANILA // A Norwegian held hostage by a notorious kidnapping-for-ransom gang in southern Philippines was released on Saturday after a year in captivity. Resort manager Kjartan Sekkingstad was among four people abducted in September 2015 by Abu Sayyaf Islamic militants based on remote and mountainous southern islands who have earned millions of dollars from kidnappings in recent years.

Two of the other captives, Canadians John Ridsdel and Robert Hall, were beheaded in April and June respectively following the lapse of ransom deadlines. The fourth — Hal’s partner, Filipina Marites Flor -was freed in June.

Mr Sekkingstad was freed in Patikul town in Sulu province and was due to spend his first night at the home of Nur Misuari, chairman of the Moro National Liberation Front, which helped negotiate his release after signing a peace deal with the government. He will then be flown to Davao, he city where Mr Duterte was mayor before becoming president.

A plan to fly the freed hostage out of Sulu, a predominantly Muslim jungle region about 950 kilometres south of Manila, was scrapped on Saturday because of bad weather.

It was not immediately clear whether a ransom had been paid for Mr Sekkingstad, who became ill during his captivity. In a news conference last month, president Duterte suggested that 50 million pesos ($1 million) had been paid to the militants, but that they continued to hold on to him. The military said that relentless assaults had forced the extremists to release their hostage.

“Under the intense pressure of focused military operations, the terrorist kidnap-for-ransom Abu Sayyaf group was constrained to release Sekkingstad, as holding him under custody slows down their continued movement,” said military spokesman Col. Edgard Arevalo.

Mr Seekingstad is due to be handed over to the authorities“He is well,” Dureza said, adding that Sekkingstad would be handed over to authorities on Sunday and then flown to the southern city of Davao.

Sekkingstad was among a group seized from aboard yachts at a tourist resort on Samal island, about 500 kilometres west of Sulu. The Abu Sayyaf demanded a huge ransom for the release of the foreigners, and released videos in which they threatened the captives in a lush jungle clearing where they displayed ISIL-style black flags.

When Ms Flor was freed in June, she recounted in horror how the militants rejoiced while watching the beheadings of the two Canadians..

“They were watching it and they were happy,” said Ms Flow, who was also flown to Davao after her release.

Government forces launched a major offensive against the Abu Sayyaf after the beheadings of the Canadians sparked condemnations from then-Philippine President Benigno Aquino III and Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, who called on other nations not to pay ransoms if their citizens are abducted to discourage the brutal militants from carrying out more kidnappings.

The Abu Sayyaf is a radical offshoot of a Muslim separatist insurgency in the south of the mainly Catholic Philippines that has claimed more than 120,000 lives since the 1970s and committed the worst acts of terrorism in Philippine history. It does not usually release hostage without payment of a ransom. The group has been blacklisted as a terrorist organisation by the United States and the Philippines for its bombing, kidnapping and murder activities. With no known foreign funding, the extremists have relied on ransom kidnappings, extortion and other acts of banditry, and some commanders have pledged loyalty to ISIL partly in the hope of obtaining funds.

President Duterte’s peace adviser Jesus Dureza said he had spoken by phone with Mr Sekkingstad and the Norwegian had expressed his gratitude to the president. t

* Associated Press

Updated: September 17, 2016 04:00 AM